Thursday, 17 February 2011

Who's the wife?!

Here is an interesting newspaper story from the Edinburgh based Caledonian Mercury, Monday July 23rd 1849, concerning a man with two irregular wives - or is that two wives from irregular marriages?! You decide! Both women tried to claim that they were the wife of the same man at the Court of Session:

Both parties belong to Glasgow. Mr B-- , a young man of considerable property, resident in that city, eloped with a young girl of seventeen, E--, the daughter of an innkeeper there, named M--. The parties proceeded to Edinburgh by the railway, on the 21st July 1846, and went to the Albion Hotel, where they occupied separate apartments for the night. On the following day they waited upon a solicitor who prepared a formal contract of marriage, which was signed before witnesses, and B-- wrote to several of his relations announcing his marriage. There was no religious ceremony; but the parties proceeded to Kirkcaldy, and lived together at the George Hotel, for three days and three nights, during which they slept together.

Immediately thereafter, B-- deserted the young woman E-- M-- , and went off to live with another woman of the name of J- McD-, with whom it was alleged he had formerly cohabited. A declarator of marriage was then brought by E-- M-- against Mr B--, for establishing her rights as his wife. The proof led, consisted of the contract and correspondence, and the cohabitation of the parties for several days at Kirkcaldy, and Lord Wood found the marriage to be clearly established, by an interlocutor on the 5th June 1849.

The case came before the First Division of the court by a reclaiming note at B--’s instance, on Tuesday last (the 17th July). It was then stated by the counsel for B--, that J-- McD-- the daughter of a dyer in Glasgow, had raised a declarator of marriage against him, setting forth that they had been married, by mutual consent, in the end of May 1846; and that two children had been born of the marriage, one in March 1848, and the other in May 1849.; and he moved the court to delay giving judgement in the action at E-- M--’s instance till the claim put forward by J-- McD-- was disposed of.

The court overruled this motion, and adhered to Lord Wood’s interlocutor, finding the marriage between E-- M-- and B-- to be clearly established, and without giving any opinion on the claim of McD-- , which was not then regularly before them.

Here is an instance of two irregular and clandestine marriages said to have been contracted by parties belonging to Glasgow, and where two women are each laying claim to the same man. After about three years’ litigation, one of the women succeeds in getting a judgment declaring her marriage with B-, but in place of having her status conclusively fixed by this decision, she finds the whole case re-opened by her competitor, J-- McD--, who pretends to have a prior claim to B--, in respect of an alleged irregular marriage of an earlier date; and the position of wife and children is thus left in a state of lamentable uncertainty till another litigation has run its course.

You won't find every Scots marriage in the church records pre-1855. But you will find more about how to locate them in my forthcoming book, Discover Scottish Church Records, coming soon from Unlock the Past! (UPDATE: now available from or in ebook format from


Monday, 14 February 2011

How many Scottish church denominations?

If you are having problems trying to find a pre-1855 birth in Scottish parish records, here's a wee eye opener as to why that might be. The ScotlandsPeople website only hosts the registers of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic churches. But there were plenty more!

The following is a list of church denominations, and the number of premises they had, as returned for the Religious Worship Census of 1851, taken alongside the main decennial census on March 30th-31st.

Established Church 904
Reformed Presbyterian Church 37
Original Secession Church 30
Relief Church 2
United Presbyterian Church 427
Free Church 824

Episcopal Church 112
Independents or Congregationalists 168
Baptists 100
Society of Friends 6
Unitarians 5
United Brethren, or Moravians 1

Wesleyan Methodists:
* Original Connexion 61
* Primitive Methodists 10
* Independent Methodists 1
* Wesleyan Reformers 1

Glassites, or Sandemanians 6
New Church 5
Campbellites 1
Evangelical Union 27

Isolated Congregations:
* Various 8
* Common 2
* Unsectarian 1
* City Mission 7
* Christians 7
* Christian Disciples 14
* Christian Reformation 1
* Reformed Christians 1
* Free Christian Brethren 1
* Primitive Christians 2
* Protestants 4
* Reformation 1
* Reformed Protestants 1
* Separatists 1
* Christian Chartists 1
* Denomination not stated 6

Roman Catholics 104
Catholic and Apostolic Church 3
Latter Day Saints, or Mormons 20
Jews 1

(Extracted from Table A: Summary of the Whole of Scotland, p.2-3, from Histpop at

So just a few more denominations to think about!

For more information on how to find the registers of those other denominations I have written a book entitled Discover Scottish Church Records for Australian based genie venture Unlock the Past ( Available in paperback from and in ebook format at


Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Paton Pride

There's a bit of a joke in my family about a long running trait on the Paton side of the family. A few years ago I met one of my first cousins in London for the first time, and one of the first questions I asked him was whether his father shared a certain characteristic that my father did - the 'Paton Pride'? He instantly knew what I was referring to without me having to explain it - the answer was a resounding yes...!

Basically, my father won't do anything he doesn't want to do, and is more than happy to speak his mind. He'll listen to anyone making a fair argument, but for those talking just to hear the sound of their own voice, he won't listen for much longer! I share the trait to an extent, and by the way my youngest son is beginning to look at me, there is definitely a case forming of history about to repeat itself!

But how far back does the Paton Pride go, and how widespread is it amongst the 'clan'?! I had to laugh a few years ago when I found a record concerning my four times great grandfather, William Paton, a weaver in Perth who had been signed up to serve in Breadalbane's Fencibles. A Sergeant MacKay was doing the recruiting, and ran into a spot of bother, as the following letter he received from Edinburgh Castle, and held within the Breadalbane Muniments (GD 112) at the National Archives of Scotland, showed. The question - "Where are my troops?"!:

Perth, 24th March 1797


I had the honour to receive your two letters and in answer to the first letter, I wrote the commanding officer mentioning that the most of my party were weavers by trade and some of them were committed to stay until they should find security to finish and work the webs they had in the looms at the time they were inlisted; and indeed the greatest part of them had webs incurring fines at that period, which they were obliged to finish, therefore I could not get them away until all these points were settled; but now I think it will be in my power to march 8 recruits from here on the 28th March to head quarters, and I expect they will arrive there in due time.

I have the honour to be

Sir, your humble servant

Robert McKay,
Sergeant 2nd Battalion, 4th Fencibles

Possibly the threat of a fine was holding him back, but I like to think that William had decided he wasn't going anywhere until he was good and ready!

In another example, when the First World War broke out, my great grandfather elected to remain in Brussels to look after his shoe shop. The decision costs him his life two years later during the occupation, and a family letter states after "what a pity he didn't leave when he could". I can imagine the conversation - "No bloody Bosch is going to make me give up my shop...!"

The Paton Pride seems to have been long established - but how widespread is it?!

Earlier today however, I received an email from someone containing a Daily Telegraph obituary from 1992 for the Reverend David MacDonald Paton, my father's second cousin. David was something of a high flyer within the Anglican Church, some said one of the greatest archbishops the church never had, but he never made it to such a high office, settling instead for a role as one of the present Queen's chaplains for eleven years. The reason for his apparent failure? Here's an extract:

"Yet after 10 years of fine service at Church House - which included acting as an adviser to Archbishop Michael Ramsey, a close personal friend - Paton was denied the senior appointment for which he was so admirably equipped...

"The Archbishops of Canterbury and York pleaded his cause with the Secretary of Appointments at Downing Street and with bishops who had patronage at their disposal. But all to no avail.

"The reason for Paton's failure to secure a cathedral canonry or even deanery is not clear. It was sometimes suggested that he spoke too freely and too frankly..."

Of course, being ex-BBC, I know only too well the dangers of single sources for stories. So, erm - here's the Guardian's take!

"Canon David Paton, who has died at the age of 78, was arguably the most far-sighted English Anglican this century and yet was denied any influential post, let alone a bishopric. Did his outspoken understanding of contemporary issues and his sharp insight into people make him a threat to people responsible for easing round pegs into round holes?"

A potentially definite pattern emerging there then?!

So the Patons of old and far may share the same Y-chromosome, but do we also share the same sense of individuality?

Haha - for my boys, I say "hopefully!" Even if you open your mouths and say something inconvenient to the listener but which you passionately believe in, go for it (just make sure it's legal! lol)

Be yourselves and listen to no man - and long live the Paton Pride!!!


Disclaimer - I can offer no scientific back up to this, but only the perspective of someone equally afflicted with the condition. Secondly, no animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. Thank you!